Design Of A Decade: 1986-1996

Janet Jackson

A & M, 1995

http://www.janetjackson.com

REVIEW BY: Peter Piatkowski

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/01/2021

In 1995, Janet Jackson was arguably the highest-paid pop star on the planet. She was the beneficiary of the pop music bubble that led record labels to throw around gigantic multi-million-dollar deals. In 1991, she had signed a deal with Virgin Records for a reported $30 million, leaving her long-time label, and followed up the deal with the hugely successful janet. Album in 1993 that went on to sell some 15 million copies worldwide.

Returning to A&M briefly in 1995, Jackson released her first compilation, Design Of A Decade: 1986-1996, a brief – very brief – look at her career up to this time. Because the pop diva’s greatest work was spread across two labels, it appears as if it were a contractual impossibility to include all of her hits, so instead, the bulk of the album is devoted to her hits from Control (1986) and Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), with a single hit from janet., alongside two newly-recorded tracks. It’s an odd compilation because it’s simultaneously unsatisfying as a comprehensive overview of Jackson’s work, but at the same time, because her track record for those three years were so hit-stuffed, the album still does what it sets out to do: highlight just how dominant Janet Jackson was during her peak 80s career.

So, even though the record has the word ‘decade’ in the title, that’s misleading, because we’re only looking at a few years, really. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Design is missing a lot. Not only is her Virgin work missing, but so are her singles from her first two albums as well as her hit duets with Luther Vandross and Herb Alpert (both A&M singles that were available on more expensive import versions of the album). So a lot of Design Of A Decade feels unfinished and brief. It feels almost too early in Jackson’s career to have a best-of.

However, one cannot dismiss just how chock-full of dance pop classics the record is. Fourteen of the album’s sixteen tracks were top 10 hits, with five going to number one. It’s a dizzying achievement for a singer who had to wrest away from the looming shadow of the greatest pop star in history. The songs from Control are state-of-the-art funk pop that sound fresh and innovative decades after their release. Jackson’s singing – a thin, sweet croon – is refreshingly haughty and pertinent. The lyrics – penned by Jackson as well as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis – are pop feminist calls for empowerment and equality. “Nasty” is a righteous banger with the singer flipping off louses and leeches while “Control” is an anthem of self-actualization and independence.  Control is a near-perfect pop record and people should invest in buying that one before getting Design.

And though Rhythm Nation had a massive impact on the pop charts, selling over six million copies and unfurling a string of hit singles (seven went to the top five) it’s a slight down tick from Control (which felt explosive). The songs of Rhythm Nation are great, but they feel slightly dated – the thick, staccato beats, wall-to-wall synths, clattering drums – and Jackson and her writers aren’t as skillful when crafting socially conscious music (it’s telling, that the title track, a call for racial justice, is the only political song that made it to the compilation). But the songs’ impact and their place in pop history is undeniable.

To entice listeners into buying Design Of A Decade, two new songs were tacked on: the bubbly “Runaway” and the leisurely “Twenty Foreplay.” Embellished with world music flourishes, “Runaway” is a frothy, candy-coated tune with a giggly Jackson crooning mindless lyrics about all of the international places she’s visited (we’re assuming she’s alluding to her many world tours). “Twenty Foreplay” is a lengthy soul ballad that starts off swoony before becoming a funky slow jam. Though they aren’t as sparkling as the classics, they’re still solid entries.

However incomplete, Design Of A Decade is still a decent chronicle of one of the most fruitful careers in pop music of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Rating: B-

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